NID President’s Report to the Pastors Conference May Suggest the Harrison Effect has Commenced, by Pr. Rossow

In my opinion the report I heard from my bishop, Dan Gilbert, at the Northern Illinois District (NID) South Region Pastors Conference, suggests early on that synod president Matt  Harrison is having a “confessional effect” on the LCMS.

Before getting into details let me make it clear that President Gilbert is his own man. He is a nice person who has always been available to me through my years in the district. He has also been very respectful of the Northern Illinois Confessional Lutherans and the concerns they have expressed in the district. But he is still his own man and there are still some major differences in how he and I would approach “doing” church. Nonetheless, I did notice in his report some evidence that already there is a new spirit in the LCMS.

The NID is historically a “liberal district.” I don’t wish to use over-simplify and use harmful caricatures when speaking of the synod but overall I think most clergy and many laymen have an unwritten scorecard on the theological bent of districts and on that scorecard, the NID is historically liberal, at least for the last generation. I have heard many pastors in the NID “brag” that the progressive nature of the parishes in the city of Chicago and its suburbs gives this liberal bent to the entire district. Under Gilbert this liberal bent is more a matter of church growth theology than old-fashioned hard-line liberalism but it is in my book still liberalism.

President Gilbert still considers evangelism to be the material principal of the church, even though he would not word it that way. It continues to be the organizing principle of his district reports. But, I don’t care to dwell in this article on what separates us. (I will however offer my standard critique of the over-emphasis on evangelism – I challenge every reader to search the New Testament. If you can find three or more calls for personal evangelism, I will buy you a Book of Concord. You won’t find them. They do not exist. One would think that if personal evangelism is the material principal of church structure that this would be a prominent New Testament theme.)

Here are some highlights of President Gilbert’s report that suggest a new spirit in the synod.

  • Gilbert highlighted Harrison’s new tripartite theme for the synod of “Witness, Mercy, Life-together.” He even quoted the Greek for each of the three terms.
  • When speaking about a fellow NID pastor who recently committed suicide, President Gilbert encouraged us to seek out brother pastors for support and promoted the Doxology program as a means to do that. He did then also mention PLI in passing but clearly the emphasis was on the Doxology program, a pastors retreat that makes use of the traditional liturgy among other confessional resources.
  • He spoke to us about our preaching. This in itself is a refreshing change. I have been a pastor for 23 years and this is the first time a DP offered direction and guidance for preaching and here was his advice. “Preach the cross! Preach Christ crucified.” He also quoted the Apology in support of this encouragement.
  • President Gilbert spoke positively about President Harrison on a few other miscellaneous matters as well.
  • Gilbert also reported that Harrison is using a soft hand in leading the synod. I believe his words were “He’s not angry.” I think this reflects a bias of the liberals in our synod that Harrison was somehow going to be mean-spirited but even so, I am happy that my bishop believes that President Harrison is being even-handed and that he took the time to relate this to the district pastors.
  • Gilbert also related some direction that he said came straight from synod and the council of presidents. He told us that when we do the baptismal rite and the words of institution that we need to be careful to follow the words printed out in the liturgy. He gave a few examples of how pastors play fast and loose with these phrases from Christ, inspired by the Holy Spirit in Scripture and was very stern in telling us to stop being creative in this matter.

Thank you President Gilbert for a fine report and for illustrating what I discerned to be hints at how President Harrison will have, and is already having a confessional effect on the LCMS.

About Pastor Tim Rossow

Rev. Dr. Timothy Rossow is the Director of Development for Lutherans in Africa. He served Bethany Lutheran Church in Naperville, IL as the Sr. Pastor for 22 years (1994-2016) and was Sr. Pastor of Emmanuel Lutheran in Dearborn, MI prior to that. He is the founder of Brothers of John the Steadfast but handed off the Sr. Editor position to Rev. Joshua Scheer in 2015. He currently resides in Ocean Shores WA with his wife Phyllis. He regularly teaches in Africa. He also paints watercolors, reads philosophy and golfs. He is currently represented in two art galleries in the Pacific Northwest. His M Div is from Concordia, St. Louis and he has an MA in philosophy from St. Louis University and a D Min from Concordia, Fort Wayne.

Comments

NID President’s Report to the Pastors Conference May Suggest the Harrison Effect has Commenced, by Pr. Rossow — 28 Comments

  1. In my opinion the report I heard from my bishop, Dan Gilbert, at the Northern Illinois District (NID) South Region Pastors Conference, suggests early on that synod president Matt Harrison is having a ‘confessional effect’ on the LCMS.

    Well… at least the effect is showing on one district president. Of the six evidentiary bullets, five only involve DP Gilbert’s verbage in his South Region Pastors Conference report, and the last bullet indicates DP Gilbert had been given “some direction” (aka “was read the riot act”) by the COP to shape up his loosey-goosey district with a “very stern” warning. I wonder whether the “confessional effect” was given to Gilbert in a meeting behind here.

    BTW, according to Ap.XXVIII.13-14, DP Gilbert is not a bishop.

  2. Pastor Rossow,

    I can’t tell you how pleased and thankful I am that President Gilbert has sent this letter out to my district. The last bullet point concerning the baptismal rite and the words of institution is music to my ears! Thank you for sharing this with us.

    In Christ,
    Diane

  3. @Carl Vehse #1
    CV, I was wondering if you would be the first to give this positive article a negative spin. You do not disappoint. Thank you, at least, for being a consistent “downer”. One more thing, I sometimes wonder if Pr. Rossow doesn’t use the title Bishop just so you will have something upon which to comment. 🙂

  4. Well, my prediction is that my own DP will claim that this is the moderating influence of Pr. Mueller. He has yet to realize that this is who Harrison is. Those of us who knew a bit about Pr. Harrison, understood that he is a soft spoken pastoral man. I also think that those who push back will find that certain lines are very firm. Pr. Harrison will stand his ground, though he will try to be pastoral and diplomatic.

  5. I have had opportunity to speak with President Gilbert. There is no doubt in my mind that he is kind, considerate, open, and last but not least “One Man, Forgiven “

  6. It has always bothered me when a pastor would go “off script” while he was supposed to be speaking words taken directly from the Bible. For example, it drove me crazy that one of my previous pastors consistently said of the bread, “This do, as often as you eat it, in remembrance of me.”

  7. @aletheist #7
    From Divine Service I, LSB
    The Words of Our Lord LSB 162
    P Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the night when He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it and gave it to the disciples and said: “Take, eat; this is My T body, which is given for you. This do in remembrance of Me.”

    In the same way also He took the cup after supper, and when He had given thanks, He gave it to them, saying: “Drink of it, all of you; this cup is the new testament in My T blood, which is shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”

    Aslo from Divine Service I, LSB:
    Distribution

    The pastor and those who assist him receive the body and blood of Christ first and then distribute them to those who come to receive, saying:

    Take, eat; this is the true body of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, given into death for your sins.
    Amen.

    Take, drink; this is the true blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, shed for the forgiveness of your sins.
    Amen.

    Are these the things to which you are referring??

  8. There may be a couple of district presidents in the Missouri Synod who are also called pastors of congregations. In the latter office they may be called bishops. The Atlantic District President is one of those.

  9. @Carl Vehse #10
    Carl, nice to hear you’re still alive. After many read the article, we were waiting for your bishop comment. I’m sure Rev. Rossow was. You’ve had many discussions on the use of the title Bishop. You know that those who use it desire the DP to be a confessional Bishop in position and duty. The DP has the position. I.E. I’m not going to cease refering to someone as a ‘mother’ because they aren’t doing to proper job am I?

  10. Why can’t the LCMS officially refer to all the DPs and the Synod President as Bishops/ Archbishop respective?

    I have noticed that only a few are being refered to as Bishops e.g. the English District Pres.

    Any thoughts,…?

  11. Philo,
    I suppose you could refer to Barack Obama as King. But in the US we don’t have kings we have presidents. The same goes for the LCMS, we do not have bishops we have district presidents. I suppose you could call a district president a bishop but it makes as much sense as calling Obama a king.

  12. John E :

    Carl Vehse :BTW, according to Ap.XXVIII.13-14, DP Gilbert is not a bishop.

    DP Behnke will be sorry to hear that. He fancies himself a bishop to.

    When I used to live in Minnesota South, I heard DP Seitz thought of himself as bishop. Think CCM can rule on this? 😉

  13. Jason :

    John E :

    Carl Vehse :BTW, according to Ap.XXVIII.13-14, DP Gilbert is not a bishop.

    DP Behnke will be sorry to hear that. He fancies himself a bishop to.

    When I used to live in Minnesota South, I heard DP Seitz thought of himself as bishop. Think CCM can rule on this?

    If the Oakland 4 suit come out in favor of the plantifs the CCM won’ have to make a ruling. Synod will get their hierarchy status. The DP’s will be bishops and we will all have to kiss their rings and grab at the hems.

  14. I do not think I agree that the NID is a “liberal” district. It seems to me, that if you consider the worship practices that prevail in many congregations and the theology that is behind those practices, the NID might better be called a “fundamentalist” district – about as far from traditional liberalism as can be. Certainly the old high ritual – high sacramental – critical liberalism of parishes that left the synod – Grace, R.F., St. Luke’s, Chicago still exists in a few parishes that stayed. However, they are few and far between. What has arisen are the parishes that copy Arminian Evangelicalism in practice (and therefore, perhaps inadvertently, in doctrine) from C. Finney on down to his modern day successors. This is not liberalism. What it is perhaps is worse. It is a quasi-pentecostal fundie-ism, that ultimately doesn’t need the Sacraments – because they are replaced with praise songs and emotion.

  15. I find this desire for bishops to be akin to Israel in the OT longing for a a king instead of judges. Becare what you wish for. I am quite familiar with the Episcopal church and what bishops are really like. If you want to see the joys of having bishops, I suggest you look no further than the Diocese of Pennsylvania. Many on this board were fearful that Kieschnick could have got re-elected coupled with the passing of the Blue Ribbon recommendations. Then you would have gotten a nice preview of what life under a bishop would be like. Wise up Missouri, we neither need nor should we desire bishops.

  16. Steven Anderson :
    I do not think I agree that the NID is a “liberal” district. It seems to me, that if you consider the worship practices that prevail in many congregations and the theology that is behind those practices, the NID might better be called a “fundamentalist” district – about as far from traditional liberalism as can be. Certainly the old high ritual – high sacramental – critical liberalism of parishes that left the synod – Grace, R.F., St. Luke’s, Chicago still exists in a few parishes that stayed. However, they are few and far between. What has arisen are the parishes that copy Arminian Evangelicalism in practice (and therefore, perhaps inadvertently, in doctrine) from C. Finney on down to his modern day successors. This is not liberalism. What it is perhaps is worse. It is a quasi-pentecostal fundie-ism, that ultimately doesn’t need the Sacraments – because they are replaced with praise songs and emotion.

    Pastor,
    I think you are absolutely correct in your statement “What has arisen are the parishes that copy Arminian Evangelicalism…” in NID. Out here in flyover country (Rockford and beyond) it is very hard to find a congregation that doesn’t have at least one CW or”blended “(whatever that is) worship. My congregation, Reformation Lutheran in Loves Park has the historic liturgy out of LSB every Sunday. We are very small and we are struggling. We are graciously served by Pastor Richard Berg, who is retired. God has been merciful to us!

  17. Steven Anderson,
    While I do not know the make up of the NID, what you descirbe would be a fairly accurate reflection on my district. We have some old line liberals in a number of parishes. However, in our district they seem to use the CW/CG to veil their liberalism. But many of our parishes have gone CW/CG and bought into the Arminian Evangelicasm. The word Methobaptistcostal is a pretty apt description. It is sad to see parishes in this disctirct promote “Purpose Drvien …….”, or being memebers of the Willow Creek association, or some other fad.

  18. I was in the same room as Pr. Rossow Tuesday night. What he has written is true to the letter. I also noticed that President Gilbert referred to district mission grants as “Mission Grants” rather than “Ablaze Grants”. This is another good sign toward a unifying effect in our beloved Synod.

    Pr. Walter is right when he mentions 1 VP Mueller’s name. Rev. Mueller has been a mentor of sorts for President Gilbert.

    1 VP Mueller and President Gilbert are the two speakers at the NID Pastors Conference this coming February. The conference is a theological conference on worship in the mold of the conference held in Kirkwood, MO this past January. I’m looking forward to attending. 1 VP Mueller ordained me when I served in SID and Pres. Gilbert is my current ecclesiastical supervisor. Excellent conversation should happen.

    Rev. David M. Juhl
    Our Savior, Momence, IL

  19. With the change in synodical administration, “Ablaze” is quietly being filed under verba non grata.

  20. @Carl Vehse #25
    With the change in synodical administration, “Ablaze” is quietly being filed under verba non grata.

    Will ‘changing labels’ change anything on the ground?
    Or will Texas District continue to fund only those “mission starts” which promote CoWo, CW, or whatever else you want to call pop “Christianity”?

  21. At least the name is hopefully disappearing. Then it will no longer be distracting and possibly divisive. And then maybe oru already established Mission thinking can come back, as a unified program, without certain goofy extraneous items.

    I really hope next is that TCN withers up. Being newer, I don’t know if it has as much traction, and can maybe quietly disappear into the night.

    As for Texas, let’s continue to pray for them.

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